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Illustrations by Irene Lee

If you prefer to wear a bra, it’s important to find something that fits properly and feels good.

After all, wearing a bra that’s less than optimal can take a toll on your physical health.

Ill-fitting straps and wires, for example, can dig into your skin.

Wearing a bra without sufficient support can hurt your posture and cause pain in your neck, back, and shoulders.

And it isn’t uncommon for a poorly-fitting bra to discourage people from physical activity.

Your bra also affects how well your clothes fit your body. Depending on the fit, this could help you feel great about your look or leave you feeling insecure.

To find the right bra to support your best self, strap in and learn how the different types might fit you.

Imagine your breasts overlooking an elegant balcony — that’s the gist of a balconette bra. It has short cups, a horizontal top, and straps that sit wider apart than most other bras.

  • Coverage: The balconette leaves the tops of your breasts uncovered to hide the bra beneath low necklines.
  • Support: You’ll get some support from the straps and underwire, but the balconette lacks the support you’d get from fuller cups.
  • Best for: Smaller, rounder breasts that can fill out the balconette’s short cups without spilling over.

A bandeau is essentially a teeny tube top. It goes over your head without straps, cups, or hooks to fasten it, giving you a comfy and casual feel.

  • Coverage: Like a tube top, a bandeau fully covers your breasts, with the fabric usually ending just below your shoulders.
  • Support: This bra offers very little support — just enough to keep your breasts in place if it’s tight enough.
  • Best for: Smaller, rounder breasts, unless you just want something comfortable and low-support to wear around the house.

You may have seen someone rocking a bralette on Instagram, because these bras are stylish and can even be worn as outerwear. They usually don’t have underwires, padding, or cups, and often come in pretty, lacy material.

  • Coverage: You can expect full coverage from most bralettes.
  • Support: You won’t get much support from a bralette, so save it for times when you’d be comfortable without.
  • Best for: Smaller busts that can go without much support.

A built-in bra is exactly what it sounds like: breast support built into a piece of clothing. You’ll usually find this in a camisole tank top.

  • Coverage: You can expect the same amount of coverage as a tank top, which usually means your breasts are fully covered.
  • Support: Built-in bras aren’t great for support. You’ll get slightly more support than you would going braless.
  • Best for: Smaller breast sizes and more slender breast shapes. Bigger, more wide-set breasts may spill out of a built-in bra.

Despite its name, wearing a cage bra doesn’t mean you’re locking up your bust. The cage bra gets its name from multiple straps that spread above or below the cups for an elegant look.

  • Coverage: Cage bras vary in coverage, but usually they favor showing off your curves and sexy cleavage rather than full coverage.
  • Support: With several straps working together, a cage bra can give you lots of support.
  • Best for: There’s a good chance that you can find a well-fitting cage bra regardless of your shape or size. If you’re going for a goth or bondage look, the cage bra can be a good choice.

A convertible bra offers multiple styles all in one. You can remove the straps to make the bra strapless, and re-attach them in different formations, like racerback or halter.

  • Coverage: Your coverage with a convertible bra will vary by style, and having the straps attached may help it adhere closer to your body for more coverage.
  • Support: Convertible bras are usually designed to be supportive, but you might feel more supported with both straps attached.
  • Best for: A convertible bra’s versatility could benefit folks with any breast shape or size. You can cut costs by getting many styles in one, and even if strapless isn’t usually your style, you can keep a convertible bra on hand just in case you need it.

Does a bra without cups miss the whole point of being a bra? Not at all — catch a glimpse of yourself in a cupless bra and you’ll see why it’s worth it. This lingerie style has a frame, but little-to-no material over the cups and nipple area.

  • Coverage: You get very little coverage with a cupless bra, but in exchange, you get to offer a peek at your chest.
  • Support: Of course, cupless bras give very little support for the cup area of your breasts, but with sturdy straps and underwire, you can still get support at the base of your bust.
  • Best for: Some cupless bras have a strip or two of fabric over the cup area; this may work best for smaller, firmer breasts that can keep that fabric in place.

Demi bras are low-cut, with cups going up about halfway over your bust. You could pair it with a V-neck top without worrying about showing your bra cup.

  • Coverage: A demi bra will cover only the underside and bottom half of your breasts.
  • Support: Demi bras can give good support, as long as you pay attention to the sizing, wiring, and straps that you need.
  • Best for: Breasts that are small and firm, so you don’t have to worry about them spilling over the low sides of this bra. A demi bra can also perk up long, sagging breasts that would otherwise look flat under a V-neck.

A front-open bra has a fastener in the front, between the cups. Some people find this style easier to take off and put on than a bra that hooks in the back.

  • Coverage: You can find front-open bras in just about every style, and coverage depends on whether it’s more like sports bra or a push-up bra.
  • Support: This also depends on the style, but some people find bras that fasten in the back to be more supportive.
  • Best for: Any breast shape or size can use a front-open bra — it just depends on your level of comfort with it! A front clasp can also help East West nipples face forward.

Full-coverage bras are named for what they do: provide full coverage. The cup fabric goes around your full breast.

  • Coverage: You’re fully covered with this choice — that’s the whole point!
  • Support: With full coverage, you also get full support, as this bra usually has a strong underwire and stretchy material for maximum support.
  • Best for: For big, full breasts, a full-coverage bra can be a great everyday choice. It can also help even out breasts that are asymmetrical or far apart.

This bra is designed to wear with halter tops. It has one strap that goes around your neck, so you can get some strap support while you’re wearing a halter.

  • Coverage: Coverage can vary, but the design of halter bras can lead to showing some cleavage.
  • Support: A halter bra is designed to be a little more supportive than a strapless bra would be. It’s not the best option for everyday support.
  • Best for: A halter bra can work for any shape and size, but may be best for smaller breasts that can handle the support of just one strap.

A high-neck has fabric that covers the whole chest, from strap to strap and up to the typical T-shirt neckline. It comes in a number of different styles, including bralettes and sports bras.

  • Coverage: You get lots of coverage with high-neck bras — so much so that some people wear them alone as outerwear.
  • Support: By hugging your breasts with all that coverage, high-neck bras can give you a high level of support.
  • Best for: High-neck bras don’t usually have molded cups. You may be most comfortable in a high-neck bra if you aren’t self-conscious about the evenness or symmetry of your breasts.

A longline bra covers about same area that a crop top would, with cups up top and fabric extending as far as past the belly button below. It can give your body a smooth look under corsets, vintage wear, and formal gowns.

  • Coverage: A longline bra will give you upper body coverage even beyond your bust. The top can have varying amounts of coverage, depending on the cut and desired look.
  • Support: Longline bras are super supportive, drawing extra support from the fabric on the rest of your torso.
  • Best for: This bra can work for a range of sizes, but it’s especially great for supporting large, full breasts.

A low-back bra has a U-shape scoop that brings the band low around your back, ideal for clothes with a low or sheer back design.

  • Coverage: Low-back bras come in a variety of styles, but they’re usually pretty low-coverage, as the cups are designed to hide beneath low necklines.
  • Support: Many different styles, from push-up to strapless, have low-back options, so the support you get depends on the style you choose. With sturdy straps and material, you don’t have to sacrifice support to get a low-back design.
  • Best for: Many low-back bras work best for small breasts on a petite frame, as bigger, more wide-set breasts might not get enough support.

With cup pockets that can hold a prosthesis, a mastectomy bra can help you regain the look, feel, and weight distribution that your chest had before surgery.

  • Coverage: Most mastectomy bras have full coverage to allow your prosthetic(s) to look like part of your body.
  • Support: Mastectomy bras can give you all the support you need, and you can get one specially tailored to support the weight you’re looking for.
  • Best for: Busts that feel uneven postsurgery, or busts of any shape and size — with tailoring, you may be able to recreate the feel of any breast type.

You may have found your perfect bra type, but then pregnancy can throw your expectations all out of whack. Maternity bras are designed with support and flexibility in mind.

  • Coverage: Most maternity bras will give you full coverage.
  • Support: Maternity bras are designed for maximum support. Most have adjustable straps, extra band hooks, and flexible material to keep supporting you through size fluctuations.
  • Best for: No matter your breast shape or size, pregnancy can bring soreness and growth that’s best tended to with a maternity bra.

Maximizer bras use padding and underwire to boost your breast size.

  • Coverage: Most maximizer bras have less-than-full coverage, as cleavage can play a role in making your bust appear fuller.
  • Support: With extra padding and strong wires to lift your bust, maximizer bras usually come with maximum support.
  • Best for: Smaller, flatter breasts that you want to give some oomph.

If you want to wear a form-fitting dress without accentuating the size of your breasts, a minimizer can help. It can shape your bust to appear smaller by redistributing your breast volume.

  • Coverage: This bra usually gives lots of coverage to prevent spilling over.
  • Support: You’ll also get lots of support as the minimizer bra keeps your bust in place in a reduced shape.
  • Best for: Large, full breasts.

A non-padded bra is a version of any style that doesn’t have padding added to the cups.

  • Coverage: Since you can get non-padded bras in a variety of styles, the amount of coverage depends on what style you get.
  • Support: The support you get from a non-padded bra also depends on the style.
  • Best for: A non-padded bra can work for all shapes and sizes. If you have larger breasts and find that padded bras accentuate them too much, you may prefer non-padded bras.

Nursing bras aren’t the same as maternity bras, though you can find bras that are both in one.

While a maternity bra is for wear during and after pregnancy, a nursing bra has features like removable flaps for easy breastfeeding.

  • Coverage: Most nursing bras provide full coverage until you open it up as needed to breastfeed.
  • Support: Like maternity bras, nursing bras are designed to fully support breasts that are engorged and changing size.
  • Best for: Breastfeeding parents of any shape and size can benefit from a nursing bra. It just depends on what helps you feel most comfortable.

A padded bra has material added to the cups, which can help your breasts look fuller and keep your nipples from showing through your clothing. Padded bras come in all styles.

  • Coverage: Padded bras can provide great coverage, though the amount varies depending on the bra style.
  • Support: Padded bras can also provide great support, depending on the style, along with soft plushness for added comfort.
  • Best for: All shapes and sizes. A padded bra can add fullness to a smaller bust, and add an even shape to breasts that are far apart.

A peephole bra is a form of lingerie more suited for moments of intimacy than for everyday wear. It has holes cut out of the cups to show your nipples.

  • Coverage: Coverage isn’t really the goal with this bra type, but apart from the peephole for your nipple, you can get a range of materials, from full to plunging neckline.
  • Support: Support depends on the style, but since peephole bras are designed for a sexy look, many include support to lift and perk up your breasts.
  • Best for: Anyone can wear a peephole bra. Some might find it more suitable for smaller breasts that won’t spill out without full cups to hold them.

A plunge bra is a great choice for rocking a very low-cut top like a deep V-neck without showing the front of your bra. It has padding like a push-up bra, and it’s cut very low in the center.

  • Coverage: This bra covers the nipples and bottom of your breast while leaving your cleavage bare.
  • Support: Like the push-up bra, the plunge bra’s function gives it lots of support power.
  • Best for: For breasts that are slender, saggy, or wide set, a plunge bra can add shape and fullness.

If you want your bra to help you feel confident and sexy, the push-up might be your go-to. This bra lifts your breasts up and closer together to accentuate your curves.

  • Coverage: The push-up effect leaves the upper, inner area of your breasts bare, which can add cleavage to your look with a low-cut top.
  • Support: Most push-up bras use underwires, and as they lift your breasts, they also support them well in the process.
  • Best for: A push-up bra can work for all shapes and sizes. It might be especially useful to add fullness to small breasts and perkiness to low-hanging breasts.

If you wear racerback tank tops or dresses, then you have an idea of how this bra is designed. The straps crisscross or converge between the shoulder blades.

  • Coverage: Most racerback bras give you lots of coverage, and some widen around the collarbone to cover even more skin.
  • Support: The racerback design distributes the weight of your breasts across your back, lending lots of support.
  • Best for: If you’ve got large breasts that need more support, you might just love how you feel in a racerback bra.

Shelf bras are often the kind you find sewn into camisoles and bathing suits for breast support. But the shelf bra also exists independently, as a quarter-cup bra that lifts your breasts to sit atop the fabric, like a shelf.

  • Coverage: Shelf bras rest below the nipple, leaving most of your breast uncovered.
  • Support: A shelf bra’s band can provide a little support, but this bra is more about a sexy look than overall lift.
  • Best for: Small breasts that don’t need much support may do best with a shelf bra, though you can rock this bra at any size as long as you feel comfortable.

If you plan to exercise, a sports bra is the way to go. It’s designed to keep your breasts from bouncing around during movement, including running, hiking, and yoga.

  • Coverage: A good sports bra should give you full coverage. If you’re spilling out, try a different size or brand until you find one that secures your bust.
  • Support: Sports bras are all about support. With the right fit, you should feel fully supported.
  • Best for: A sports bra is a must for all sizes, and the right one can make a big difference in your workout, especially if you have large breasts that tend to move around.

If you’ve ever passed on the chance to wear a backless dress because you didn’t have a bra to wear with it, then you might want to find a good stick-on bra. It uses adhesive to — you guessed it — stick to your breasts and provide support without showing bra straps.

  • Coverage: Stick-on bras tend to cover only the front, lower half of your breast to allow for plunging necklines and clothing that’s open in the back.
  • Support: These bras are notoriously bad for providing support, so you might have to look around before you find one that will hold you up.
  • Best for: Stick-on bras usually work best for smaller breasts and fashion purposes, as heftier breasts could use more support.

Strapless bras are probably the most common choice for clothing that shows your shoulders. They usually function just like a regular bra, wrapping around your bust but without the additional support of shoulder straps.

  • Coverage: You can find full-coverage strapless bras, but some people feel more exposed when their shoulders are bare.
  • Support: Without straps for extra security, going strapless generally feels less supportive.
  • Best for: Anyone can wear a strapless bra if you find the right fit. If you have larger breasts that need a lot of support, there’s a chance that you simply won’t like the feel of a bra without straps.

T-shirt bras are made with your comfort in mind. They get their name because they’re seamless, making this an ideal choice for a smooth look under a T-shirt.

  • Coverage: T-shirt bras come in a variety of styles, so coverage depends on the style.
  • Support: These bras are soft and comfy, so support isn’t their first priority. But with a good underwire and strong straps, a T-shirt bra could give you plenty of support.
  • Best for: A T-shirt bra can work for all shapes and sizes. They may lend extra support to bell-shaped breasts.

Underwire bras come in a variety of styles, with an added wire along the bottom of the cup to provide more lift and support.

  • Coverage: The amount of coverage from an underwire bra depends on the style you get it in.
  • Support: Underwire bras are known for providing optimal support, so it could be your top choice if support is what you’re looking for.
  • Best for: Bigger, fuller breasts. Some people find underwires uncomfortable, so if you don’t need the extra support, you might want to skip it.

Wireless bras also come in a variety of styles. If you don’t like dealing with underwires that can be uncomfortable and dig into your skin, a wireless bra is ideal.

  • Coverage: Wireless bras can offer as much coverage as any other, depending on the style.
  • Support: You won’t get as much support from a bra without a wire, but with the right straps and band, you can still feel supported.
  • Best for: All breast sizes, though very large breasts may need underwire for full support.

As you can see, you’ve got a huge range of bra types to choose from.

But if you’re starting to feel like the search for the right bra is a never-ending puzzle, you may find it helpful to take a step back.

Give yourself some time to try out different types and see what feels right to you.

The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and confident while having your health needs met.

Many shops and bra manufacturers have their own guides to help you pick your style and size.

You may also find it helpful to check out these tips from intimates expert Cora Harrington.

Maisha Z. Johnson is a writer and advocate for survivors of violence, people of color, and LGBTQ+ communities. She lives with chronic illness and believes in honoring each person’s unique path to healing. Find Maisha on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.